I awaited Lucy Worsley’s latest series with great eagerness. Her impish character and entertaining presentation is always worth watching. And so it was again on Thursday, 26th January, in the first episode of British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley. It concerned the Wars of the Roses.
Well, obviously, as a Ricardian I was keen to know what she would have to say about Richard III, but the programme was about the wars in general and how they have been immensely misrepresented through the centuries as a thirty-year-long blood bath that terrified and depleted the entire realm. The truth was that most people hardly noticed what was going on, because it was strife among the nobles, not the populace. It has been estimated that out of the thirty years, there were only thirteen weeks of actual fighting.
One actual example of carnage and bloodshed was Towton. There was an excellent account of the carnage. Lucy stood at the top of the steep slope, where the Yorkists were positioned, looking down to the level meadow and winding river at the bottom. She reminded us that the river was in flood at the time. The Lancastrians were trapped between the Yorkists and the floodwater. It was really demonstrated how the Yorkists were able to rush down and slaughter the Lancastrians. A horrible, horrible battle, but the only one of all the WOTR battles to produce such devastating killing in such huge numbers. 28,000.
Towton aside, the universal version of events in those thirty years is courtesy of the Tudors, especially Henry VII, the first and most devious of a devious pack. The fifteenth-century conflict is “a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time”—cue Henry VII, darn his usurping little socks. That man a master weaver of lies!
As a result of his machinations, it’s as if there was such a huge conspiracy to lay blame on Richard III that the whole of English history has somehow been tainted by it. Cruelly, Henry’s lies took root, and Richard was damned. That was made clear throughout the programme.
We saw all the Tudor embellishments—masonry, paintings, literature (read Shakespeare). Henry even saw to it that illustrations predating his accession were doctored to include his badges and symbols, thus pretending that his ancestry and right to the throne had been there all along! There was very little of which he did not think and take steps to correct. One almost has to admire his thoroughness. But what a natural-born LIAR!
There weren’t many glimpses of Richard. Least of all the real Richard, because the programme was all centred on the myths, as the series title makes plain. But Henry’s endless untruths were just accepted, without any real attempt to prove them to be so. Nothing was said to show how good a king Richard had been in his brief two years. No mention of his Parliament, for instance, which definitely proved him to be a just man with the welfare of the people at heart. I doubt if Henry knew what welfare was, except when it applied to himself. As for justice…forget it. Anyway, one sentence about the Parliament would have gone a long way to redress the balance.
As for Richard’s physical appearance, it wasn’t until the very end that Lucy went to Leicester, and Richard’s skeleton had a look-in, but not the modelled head that gives such a good impression of what he actually looked like. The fine statue by the cathedral featured in one of the final scenes, but even then we had to see Henry again—a little statuette brought by someone who has started a Henry VII Society to rival the Richard III Society. This gentleman moaned that Henry was now being maligned. Well, Horrible Henry, have a dollop of your own medicine!
All that said, it was still enjoyable. Lucy is wonderful viewing, and if she told us black was white, I might have trouble arguing. Except where Richard III is concerned, of course.
See a clip at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04png88